Category Archives: Caribbean Plus Lit News

Literary news of interest from the Caribbean and wider world

Anisfield Wolf Book Awards

Came across this and saw Hidden Figures (which was the bomb) and Isabel Allende (who is a legend), and thought I’d share. Maybe some books for your reading list? I see one (the association of small bombs) that I’m adding to mine. Also for the writers reading this, of course check out the awards for next cycle. – JCH

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 82nd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2017 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are:

• Isabel Allende, Lifetime Achievement
• Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, Fiction
• Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Poetry
• Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, Fiction
• Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Nonfiction

“The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who chairs the jury. “This year, we honor a breakthrough history of black women mathematicians powering NASA, a riveting novel of the Asian American experience, a mesmerizing, poetic exploration of forgotten black musical performance and a spellbinding story of violence and its consequences. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of Isabel Allende, an unparalleled writer and philanthropist.”

READ MORE.

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Mailbox – Burt Top Three Announced

Administered by the Bocas Lit Fest and sponsored by CODE, the Burt Award has the specific target of unearthing and/or boosting teen/young adult Caribbean literature (CODE sponsors a similar prize among indigenous communities in Canada and in Africa). Since 2014, when the Caribbean Burt Award launched, this has included books like Diana McCaulay’s Gone to Drift, which recently sold US rights to a major publisher after being critically acclaimed in the region, AdZiko Gegele’s All Over Again, the first winning title, Imam Baksh’s genre-bending Children of the Spider, my own Musical Youth, which is now finding its way on to school reading lists, and other titles. The newest list includes some names familiar around these parts including the founder of the Allen Prize, a Trinidad project not unlike Wadadli Pen, and a 2017 Bocas finalist – talk about a BIG year – who recently broke down publishing in the region for the uninitiated. Here are the details as sent out by the Bocas team (not including featured images which are from previous Burt Award ceremonies at the Bocas Lit Fest, official author photos and screen caps, and book covers).

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Burt Caribbean finalists 2014.

 

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Burt Caribbean finalists 2015.

 

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Burt Caribbean finalists 2016.

 

We’re excited to announce the finalists for CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, which recognizes outstanding writing for young adults by Caribbean authors!

Three finalists were selected from among submissions of both published books and unpublished manuscripts. The 2017 finalists are:

LisaAllen-Agostini_0Lisa Allen-Agostini (Trinidad & Tobago), Waiting on the Bus – manuscript

KJ  Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad & Tobago), The Beast of Kukuyo –  manuscript

Viviana Prado-Nunez (Puerto Rico/USA), The Art of White Roses – self-published book

The finalists were selected by an independent jury made up of writing, publishing, and educational professionals with expertise in young adult literature.

“We saw a wide range of submissions, from a photographic art book to an erotic novel, all with one very strong element in common: a love for place and culture, a celebration of Caribbean life, which was a wonderful thing to read in all its variations.” — chief judge Barry Goldblatt.

Up to $22,000 CAD in prize money will be awarded to a maximum of three winners, who will be announced on April 26th at the opening night celebration of the 2017 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

To support the development of high quality, culturally relevant books, CODE will facilitate the publication of the winning titles by Caribbean publishers. CODE will also purchase and distribute up to 2500 copies of each winning title, which will be donated to schools, libraries, and community organizations across the region through CODE’s network of local partners.
Read the full press release here.

PAST BURT TITLES WHICH SHOULD BE ON THE BOOK SHELF OR IN THE E-READER OF ANY TEEN IN YOUR LIFE:

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and With Grace; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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Lorna Goodison to succeed Mervyn Morris as Jamaica’s Poet Laureate

“Goodison picks up the mantle from Professor Mervyn Morris, who was the first Poet Laureate of Jamaica appointed by the government. Goodison, who has authored 12 books of poetry as well as short story collections and a memoire will be invested as Poet Laureate of Jamaica on May 17, 2017, at a ceremony held at King’s House in Kingston. She will serve in the post from May 2017 through to May 2020.

Tanya Batson-Savage (Susumba) writes that poet Lorna Goodison will step into the role of Jamaica’s second official poet laureate, becoming the first Jamaican woman appointed to the post. Our warmest congratulations! Here are excerpts from Susumba: [. . .] Goodison picks up the mantle from Professor Mervyn Morris, who was the first Poet Laureate of Jamaica […]

via Lorna Goodison First Female Poet Laureate of Jamaica — Repeating Islands

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RIP, Sir Derek

A giant of world literature and son of the Caribbean, Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Walcott has died. Details are slim at this time. But this link at St. Lucia News Online is one of several in his homeland announcing his passing. Will share more links in this space as they become available.

Walk good, Sir.

UPDATES as they come:

“His monumental poetry, including 1973’s verse autobiography, Another Life, and his Caribbean reimagining of The Odyssey, 1990’s Omeros, secured him an international reputation which gained him the Nobel prize in 1992. But this was matched by a theatrical career conducted mostly in the islands of his birth as a director and writer with more than 80 plays to his credit.

“For the Jamaican poet Kei Miller, Walcott’s most important contribution was perhaps his assertion of his Caribbean identity and his confidence that this identity was enough to encompass all of human experience.

““Walcott always insisted that he was a Caribbean writer,” Miller said, “and that this wasn’t a limit, that it didn’t make his work parochial. I always say I want to write a large literature from a small place, and it is Walcott who embodies that attitude more than anyone else.” While the colonial experience was terrible, he continued, Walcott argued that it gave him “the language that was his kingdom. His poetry was supremely ambitious. He was taking on Shakespeare, he was taking on Chaucer, he was taking on Dante – all of these were his forefathers and he thought of himself as equal to them. This is what great writing was and this is what he wanted to produce … he wanted to stand alongside them.”” – The Guardian (UK)

“He had a sense of the Caribbean’s grandeur that inspired him to write “Omeros,” a transposed Homeric epic of more than 300 pages, published in 1990, with humble fishermen and a taxi driver standing in for the heroes of ancient Greece.

“Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The prize committee cited him for “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.”

“It continued: “In his literary works Walcott has laid a course for his own cultural environment, but through them he speaks to each and every one of us. In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet.”” – The New York Times (US)

‘The appointment was announced May 1, 2009, and he would begin teaching in September. I wanted to plan a syllabus immediately, but had a very hard time reaching him to find out how he envisioned a creative writing course. His fax machine—there was no email account—was offline, and no one answered the phone at his home in St. Lucia. I wrote letters. Then packets. A postal clerk wept when she couldn’t find St. Lucia on her computer. “Is it a US island?” In August, a fax came from New York, where he was spending the summer. It was just a handwritten list of authors: he wanted me to order editions of Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, W. H. Auden, Hart Crane, and Philip Larkin. He also wanted to include George Meredith’s Victorian-era novel in verse, Modern Love, a book that I had never read. He did not include a creative writing textbook. Nor did he tell me what he would do in the course. I had a month to submit a rush order for books.’ – The Stranger who has loved You by Bert Almon in The Walrus (Canada)

“For my A levels, we are doing Selected Poems by Derek Walcott, edited by Wayne Brown. For a whole year my eyes follow a girl with the most beautifully sculpted face — a finely wrought jaw that produced a jut in her lower lip that seemed to make something elegant of her. Not a girl I was attracted to, or had strong intentions of courting as I think of it now, but as a kind of sculpture, a place where the marks, or style of Creation were visible. Where Creation began to smile to itself and try things, new things with the faces it sculpted. I read it as (or wanted it to be) infatuation at the time. Like Walcott’s beauty, in “The Light of the World”. I had infused her with other loves and impulses of mine. I had forced onto her the weight of symbol for so many interwoven needs.” – Growing Up Under Walcott by Vladimir Lucien on the Peepal Tree Press blog

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and With Grace; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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Mailbox – Bocas’ Best

The Bocas Prize is the only annual Caribbean-specific major book prize; it has become, in the few years of its existence, the one to aim for – as much for the size of the purse as the prestige (the prize having been won by the likes of Derek Walcott and Olive Senior). Only one Antiguan and Barbudan book/author has made the long list to date – Nobody Go Run Me/Dorbrene O’Marde in the non-fiction category. But while we keep aiming and striving, let’s celebrate the ones who have broken through in 2017. Some, like Jamaican Kei Miller, have made this list before, but for Trinidadian Kevin Jared Hosein it’s his first time in this company – as a fan of both (as you would have seen in my postings in the Blogger on Books series of some of their previous books) and of the way Beckles makes history accessible and connective, and of some of Ann Margaret Lim and Ishion Hutchinson’s poetry though I haven’t yet read their full collections. Congratulations to all who made the cut. Here are the details in a mailing from the people administering the prize:

Books by nine writers, the majority under the age of forty, have been announced on the longlist for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.

Now in its seventh year, the Prize recognises books in three genre categories — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by Caribbean authors in 2016.

Bocas

In the poetry category, the judges have named books by three younger Jamaican writers. Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons is a meditation on home and abroad, personal and communal history, with a rich verbal register and intense engagement with the past literary canon. Ann-Margaret Lim’s lyrical Kingston Buttercup has a deep grounding in the landscape of Jamaica, whether the penetrating poems address the persistent legacy of slavery, Lim’s relationship with her mother, or the complications of contemporary Kingston. And Safiya Sinclair’s debut Cannibal is haunted by the character of Caliban from The Tempest, as it explores Jamaican childhood and womanhood, and otherness in a strange place that may be the United States where the poet now lives, or language itself. “We were delighted to read a set of poetry collections remarkable for their range of focus and poetic method,” write the prize judges. “Each entry made its own claims on us in terms of originality, appeal, and ambition. Throughout our discussions, all the collections impressed upon us the vitality of today’s voices in contemporary Caribbean poetry.”

The fiction category includes novels by two Jamaicans and one Trinidadian. Marcia Douglas’s magical realist novel The Marvellous Equations of the Dread is set at one of the bleakest moments of Jamaica’s recent history, after the deaths of Bob Marley and Emperor Haile Selassie, and coveys a sense of both history’s dread and the hope born of human creativity. In his debut novel The Repenters, Kevin Jared Hosein tells a transgressive, almost gothic tale of violence and punishment, exploring the darkest side of Trinidadian society and family history. And in Augustown, Kei Miller offers a historical epic ranging over sixty years of Jamaican history, with its complexities of class, ethnicity, religion, and language. “Due to the excellence and range of so many of the works, selecting a shortlist was extremely difficult,” remark the fiction judges. “We were impressed by the high quality of the entries drawn from a range of new and established writers across the region and beyond. The immediacy of their respective concerns for their culture and their pride in the richness of its history are obvious. They’re digging deep.”

The final longlisted books, in the non-fiction category, are all historical studies. Barbadian Hilary McD. Beckles’s The First Black Slave Society: Britain’s “Barbarity Time” in Barbados, 1636–1876 is a compelling history of the first 140 years of the colonisation of Barbados, “with great resonances for contemporary debates about reparatory justice for the crimes of history,” say the judges. Angelo Bissessarsingh’s twin books Virtual Glimpses into the Past and A Walk Back in Time, considered by the judges as two volumes of a single work, collect vignettes from the history of Trinidad and Tobago, offering an effortless read for those for whom the past is a forgotten country. Bissessarsingh, a self-taught historian who passed away in early 2017, during the judging period, won a devoted following among Trinidadian readers for his enthusiastic style and passion for research. And in Inward Yearnings: Jamaica’s Journey to Nationhood, Colin Palmer tells the story of Jamaica’s struggle to define an identity that embraces both its African heritage and its Anglophone western past. “Palmer’s prose immediately immerses you in sympathy for the people, events, and organisations that make this history,” the judges note.

The winners in each genre category will be announced on 27 March, 2017, and the Prize of US$10,000 will be presented to the overall winner on Saturday 29 April, during the seventh annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain.

The 2017 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together distinguished Caribbean and international writers, academics, and publishing professionals. David Dabydeen, the celebrated Guyanese writer based in the UK, chairs the poetry panel, which also includes Cuban poet and translator Nancy Morejón and London-based agent Peter Straus. On the fiction panel, chair Susheila Nasta, founder and editor of the journal Wasafiri, is joined by New York–based agent and editor Malaika Adero and St. Vincent-born, Canada-based writer H. Nigel Thomas. And Jamaican Kim Robinson-Walcott, editor of Caribbean Quarterly and Jamaica Journal, chairs the non-fiction panel, which includes scholars Aaron Kamugisha of Barbados and Patricia Mohammed of Trinidad and Tobago.

The overall chair of the 2017 cross-judging panel is the eminent Jamaican poet and scholar Edward Baugh.

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Kevin Jared Hosein Breaks It Down

repentersKevin Jared Hosein is a Trinidadian writer who this year made the Bocas long list with his fictional work The Repenters. We’ve met once, at the Trinidad launch of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean in which we both have stories. At that same Bocas event I bought a copy of Kevin’s Littletown Secrets as a gift for one of my nephews, a reluctant reader if ever there was one. He started reading the book right away and, more importantly, finished it, and wonder of wonders, liked it. I read and liked it too (as I shared in Blogger on Books). Kevin’s also been gracious enough  to approve the use of his Commonwealth winning short story King of Settlement 4 in a couple of my workshops, to include providing a copy of the story in the draft stage for comparison with the final which proved illustrative re the editing process. I am legit happy at his breakthrough on the Bocas list. Kevin did something recently that I try to do here, and to some extent on my other blog,  school and encourage on the journey and the process – with the understanding, of course, that each person’s journey is his/her own. I asked his permission to re-share what he described in his facebook note as The Colossal Post About Writing and Publishing in the Caribbean. Here it is.

The boat.

There are many people who horde great stories and manuscripts under their bed—and dwell in anger of not being recognized. I know, because I was one.

You’re in a boat with the line up in the air, expecting the fish to leap to your feet. Cast the line—see what bites. But it’s not that easy, is it? Not when it’s your own drowning confidence being used as the bait.

Four years ago, I was nothing. Publishing a novel through Peepal Tree Press; winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize; making the longlist for the OCM Bocas Prize—the numerous accolades and publications I have under my belt—were all so far away four years ago.

KJ

This isn’t a case of, “Ah reach!”

I am nowhere close to doing everything I want to do, but I can step back and gaze—and realize the milestones surpassed in this relatively short timespan. Why I’m writing is to enlighten those about the overall literary scene here in the Caribbean and to outline my own ongoing journey. I stress that everyone has their own path and mine is not to serve as a template. But hopefully, it can help another budding writer clear the bushes to their own road.

Writing groups.

The art of writing is an enormous and ultimately rewarding undertaking. It is the business of it that resides on the bleak, dark side of the moon.

I came into this business knowing nothing about it. I knew nobody and nobody knew me. Like many, I had stories but I had no idea how to get them out there. I had no mentor or link. My degree is in the natural sciences and my secondary school alma mater (Pres. College, Chaguanas) didn’t even offer English Literature as a subject while I was there.

So, with writing, I was always on my lonesome. I have always stayed away from writing groups, because I could never find a good one. Writers get easily disappointed or offended, they get finicky and vengeful. To be short and blunt, most groups devolve into circlejerks, afraid to criticize each other, in fear of being criticized themselves. And there is no shame in that. That’s just how it is. I can understand that.

While writing, you constantly surprise yourself. You might blow yourself away with a scene. You break your own barricades down and step your farthest steps constantly. It is a difficult emotion to keep internalized and there is an intense yearning to share it with someone else. That being said, never share unfinished work. If you have to talk about it, limit yourself. Two minutes. That’s it. The more you talk about something you’re not finished with, the more you feel like you’ve already finished it. Let the yearning stay there—it will be your driving force to completion.

Even when work is complete, it’s not. Read over old work every year. See if it holds up. You will be surprised how often it doesn’t. But this is a good thing—you’re growing. You’re setting higher standards for yourself each year. Literally, time will tell if your work is good.

Writing is a constant comparison of other writings. Not comparison that leads to cockiness and arrogance, but that of doing a peer review. I believe there is some universal constant in writers, harkening all the way back to Greek theatre. It is difficult to describe but there is something in us—something transfiguring the darkness around us.

For me, writing has always thrived in the hinterland of solitude. To improve in writing is to narrow that gap between your own ability and your expectations. You have to fail privately and realize when your own characters and scenes fail before someone else can point it to you. Writing is simply about overcoming failure. You know how the sayings go—scar tissue is tougher than regular tissue; you have to fall to know how to get back up. Such platitudes may not make for good literature, but the sayings exist because they are true. The more you read, the greater you’ll hone your ability to do this.

Traditional publishing

First off, if you’ve started writing today—don’t think about publishing until at least five years down the road. Enjoy the art of writing before you even put yourself through these worries.

I’ll come right out and say it: traditional publishing opportunities for Caribbean authors are scarce. We simply do not have the support. Even smaller, highly reputable publishers such as Alma Books, which did Roland Watson-Grant’s Sketcher don’t take submissions from outside of the UK. There are two main publishers who take special interest in us:

1.Peepal Tree Press, based in Leeds, UK. Peepal accepts a general minimum of 40,000 words per fiction manuscript. However, because they are a small press, they have to be very selective, only publishing a handful of books per year. I’ve worked with Peepal Tree Press rigorously and can personally attest to their passion, knowledge and expertise.

2.Akashic Books, based in Brooklyn, NY. For periods of time, Akashic does not take unsolicited submissions—but don’t let that stop you!

Both publishers have immense respect among Caribbean literary folk. Getting a reader audience is a different story.

I think it’s an unspoken rule that before you can be considered by these presses, you must have a respectable writing resume. The traditional publishing route is crucial if you want to be taken seriously in this region – a litmus test for quality, if I may. To be blunt, Trinis just don’t just other Trinis’ taste unless it’s backed up by a foreign opinion.

Both being small presses, however – you shouldn’t expect a fortune or any sort of lump sum upon being published. The only money comes from the royalties, which is just a small fraction from the overall sales.

My contract put 12.5% royalties for first 3,000 copies sold and 15% for every copy after that.
Simply put, don’t quit your  day job.

Feel free to seek out a literary agent and submit to the big ones like Simon & Schuster and Jonathan Cape, but I have no advice on that. Not yet. You’re better off trying the small presses for a debut, in my humble opinion.

Competitions & writing resumes

Before you even think of publishing, it is necessary to have a few things: to have written a treasure trove of words—good words; and a flourishing writing resume.

A writing resume doesn’t entail how well you can write, how many stories you’ve written and have under your bed, or read aloud at an open mic, or which workshops you’ve taken. It is an account of what you have out there in solid print—publications, accolades, articles, mentions. Your writing resume is your name.

Pepperpot

The two best ways to build a writing resume is to enter competitions and submit to anthologies (which are like competitions themselves, aren’t they?) I’ve spoken about scar tissue before for a reason. Concerning entering competitions, you have to know one thing—you will get rejected. Sometimes it’s ten to twenty times in a row. That’s a given. Even most regional competitions, such as the Small Axe Literary Competition, receive hundreds of entries. International ones such as Commonwealth Short Story Prize receive thousands. You’re going to have to get used to those cold, impersonal emails that begin with, ‘Dear entrant, thank you for entering! Unfortunately…’

Regardless, enter them. I had entered the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for four years before winning. I hadn’t even shortlisted before. But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is this—despite not even having given a mention, my 2014 entry, The Monkey Trap, was read by an editor over at Akashic Books. Their imprint, Peekash Press, emailed me and told me they’d like to include it in their upcoming collection, Pepperpot. This was how I sold my first short story and how my writing resume really began to take form.

Even if your name ends up on a short- or longlist, you can include that on your writing resume. That’s in your name forever.

But realize this: a competition judge is not God, and in the history of this Earth, there has been no universally loved story. Do not seek to write such a thing. Some who read my story, The King of Settlement 4, said it was too obscene and over-the-top. Fred D’Aguiar and the rest of the Commonwealth panel thought more of it than people on my Facebook list. Opinions differ. Sometimes, it works against you. Sometimes, it’s in your favour.

Either way, if you win something—don’t congratulate yourself too much.

Here are three reputable, regional competitions you should consider:

•The Small Axe Literary Competition, which is usually starts taking submissions around May and reveals their winner in October or November. There are two categories: Prose and Poetry. No entry fee.

• Wasafiri New Writing Prize, which takes submissions around October. There are three categories: Life Writing, Fiction and Poetry. There’s a reading fee of £6.00 for one category. Not exactly regional, but it has been very kind to Caribbean writers.

•Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which takes submissions around September or October and reveal their shortlist at March/April. Winners are chosen by region before an overall winner is chosen. No entry fee.

Aerogramme Studios publishes a monthly list called “Opportunites for Writers”, filled to the brim with international writing competitions. Consider these as well. Also keep on the lookout for times when places are accepting unsolicited submissions, such as what Granta did a few months back. The chances are slim—but the more you cast that line, the better. Remember this: you’re not losing anything by entering.

In addition to entering competitions, I would also suggest submitting to journals and magazines. Many places use a site called Submittable to track submissions (and rejections), so get used to it. Here are a few you can consider:

•         The Caribbean Writer
•         Moko Arts & Letters
•         POUi
•         Akashic’s Duppy Thursday series
•         Guernica Magazine
•         Lightspeed Magazine (if they can publish me, why not you?)
•         Nightmare Magazine

Note that the latter three are international publications of very high caliber, but have shown great appreciation for Caribbean writers lately.

Enter as many competitions as you can. Think of them as challenges. For example, I entered  the Mogford Short Story Prize this year. The theme was “food and drink”, something I wouldn’t normally even think to write about. The longlist was announced this month and I was not successful. But that’s okay – know why? Because now, I have another short story in my collection!

Refrain from submitting your story into an online publication that both offers no payment, and is without academic reputation. I understand some of the smaller e-zines cannot afford to pay—but if they have no means of granting you a readership, stay away. Why I say this is because once your story is published online (not in your personal blog), it becomes ineligible for many other competitions and publications, which can potentially net you payment, a prize or mention of shortlist. While it is a cheap, easy way of bulking up your writing resume, it is simply not worth it. Be patient.

Self-publishing

When I was in UWI, I wrote a collection of linked short stories titled Littletown Secrets. I didn’t do much with it until a few years later. I re-read it and still liked it—remember what I said about re-reading your old work? The main problem was this: it was very short (close to 25,000 words) and it was fantasy. There isn’t a big pull for fantasy here, not so far, and certainly not back then. So, I decided to self-publish. It was self-publishing, but at the same time, it wasn’t.

Lyndon Baptiste and his small publishing company, Potbake, agreed to print the book and work with me. It was a simple process. I handed him the manuscript. He put it in book format. My girlfriend, Portia, does amazing illustration work, so that made finding a cover artist easy!

The Trinidad Guardian stated it as one of the best children’s books of 2013, and Caribbean Beat Magazine (the in-flight magazine) also highlighted it. This is important if you want to self-publish. It is no secret that being in the company of other self-published books isn’t flattering. Many of them are riddled with spelling errors, unprofessional formatting, clichéd characters and overall amateur writing. You’ll need those newspaper reviews to separate yourself.

This makes folks wary of your work.  It was perfect to bridge the gap between primary and secondary school literature, so I received orders from both. A teacher from St. Joseph Boys’ R.C. Primary taught the book in his Standard Five class and exercises were done with Form Ones of San Fernando East Secondary. Even my own school did it during a reading camp.

The Bocas Literature Festival invited me to do readings with children three years in a row. Sales were made, little by little. We ran a batch of 500 books for about $8,000, all of which sold out. We walked right over to Trincity Mall’s R.I.K. outlet and gave them 15 copies and priced the book at $60 right there. That’s about a $20,000 (taking away $2000 for manuscript editing costs) profit right there from that batch. As I said, the little book put in some great work. That money is chump change in the end compared to other businesses. But you’re a writer – expect that kind of money. As I said, don’t quit your day job.

Little Town Secrets

Even modest sales numbers like these are rare for Trinidadian authors, however. It is simply not practical to depend on local retailers to stock your books. Sometimes they do, they sell out and they simply do not bother to restock. Sometimes only a few outlets stock them. Either way, making the books available has always been a problem. A good example—it is probably easier to find The Repenters in the Cayman Islands right now than in my own country. Having total control of sales, making deliveries by post, taking orders from schools—these contributed more than the major local bookstores ever could’ve.

Aside from the late, great Angelo Bissessarsingh’s books, local retailers have zero confidence in their West Indian section.

The people over at Paper Based Bookshop in Normandie Hotel (St. Ann’s) and Metropolitan Bookshop will be your saving graces. Without them, you’ll probably never see your book on a shelf.

You get to create your own selling opportunities. You get to approach the business side of writing from different angles. It’s a good learning experience. I marketed the book hard with as little cost as possible. I even sold about 20 copies at an Upmarket. You have to be creative. Fish aren’t going to leap at your feet, I said.

So, you shouldn’t write it off.

I self-published for one main reason—to get my foot in the door. It was a risk, but that’s what it’s all about. I used a short manuscript that was appropriate for all ages and did my own illustrations to keep production costs low. Children loved the book. I know a few who still read it over and over.

I even made a video teaser for the book for a Christmas promotion, utilizing my video-editing skills and having my own friends record the voice-over narrations. Even the background music was a composition by my friend, Brandon Abley.

I’ve dabbled in Kindle Publishing, but I just used it to give away the book for free. Availability is important. If people read it and like it, they’ll buy it if they see it on a shelf – if not for themselves, then for someone else. However, if you do want to set a price, $4.99USD seems fine as a starter. As of right now, I think I need to read up more about marketing a Kindle product before I can speak any further on the subject.

Editing

Editing is essential to elevate your work into something great. It is also tedious and, as a result, expensive. I’d say the average editor charges a little under $1,000TTD per 10,000 words. You’re thinking—you can do this yourself, save some money. What an editor is supposed to provide is at least the following:

•Improvement of syntax, i.e. reducing ‘clunkiness’ of sentence structure.
•Ensuring that continuity and verisimilitude (truthlikeness) are maintained; that plot details and descriptions flow without errors in logic or plot holes
•Ensuring character flaws are kept to a bare minimum; pointing out jarring actions or dialogue by characters.
•Ensuring the writing is economical; paring down of excess words that weigh down the story and its impact.

If your editor is charging you premium for simply correcting typos, drop that person and run. An editor can function as a proofreader but their prices are supposed to be much, much less for that aspect of the job.

It is important to note, however, that many publishers have in-house editing. Before I published The Repenters, I had the manuscript edited by Shivanee Ramlochan. She did a bang-up job, good enough to get Peepal Tree Press to consider publication with me. They, however, wanted me to expand certain plot points. When I did, they did the final editing themselves (free of charge, of course, since the book became their interest). However, if I had sent The Repenters without editing, I most likely would’ve gotten a flat rejection.

Get your work edited by a professional. But you have to be professional as well. Ensure those are good words you’re sending. Most editors flat-out will not edit a manuscript they deem as unsalvageable. In addition, it is crucial to know about manuscript format before you even send something to an editor.

Networking and image

This is the dreaded part, isn’t it? Establishing those links and connections. Trust me, this part is the most frightening for me. However, I don’t think I’ve ever really worked to give off a certain image. I am who I am. However, I do wear the same clothes all the time—like I have a uniform of sorts (akin to Earl Lovelace’s white shirt). More than once, people who meet me cannot believe I am a writer. I don’t look like one or give off the vibe, they’ve said. It figures.

I’m a Chaguanas Indian who attends Super Smash Bros. tournaments, collects Legend of Zelda paraphernalia and still headbangs to nu-metal.

You don’t need to live and breathe an image. Just do good work consistently. That’s much, much more important. Who cares in the long run about writers who can only talk and don’t write well?

Networking obviously helps—not that you have to be a high-falutin literary type or anything like that. If you’re like me and are terrified of being judged by people in real-time, this is all you have to keep in mind if you find yourself in such a situation:

•Keep conversations very brief with your literary peers. The less they know, the better. It’s good to keep some mystery to you sometimes.
•Don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t pretend to know.
•Be punctual if you’re invited to an event. Be professional.
•Don’t be too stoic. You’re not impressing anybody by being the brooding writer type.
•Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. It relieves tension. It makes life a little easier.

I was invited to a dinner with a Commonwealth Writers group about a year ago. It was terrifying, until it wasn’t. They’re just people. I was seated next to two South Americans, one from Argentina, the other from Chile. They each looked like they were in their mid-forties. They weren’t out to kill me. When I reminded myself of that, we spoke normally. They told me about things I didn’t know and I told them about things they didn’t know. It was as simple as that.

You don’t need to suck up or schmooze. Just be cordial to your fellow writers. You don’t need to get drunk with them and tell them your whole life story. However, if you’re a naturally charismatic person, by all means, go ahead and charm! I am simply not that type and do not pretend to be.

I’ll remind you of the most important contact you’ll have, though: Paper Based Bookshop.

In conclusion

I’ve tried to divulge as much information as I could in this post. It took a lot of time to figure out the ins-and-outs of the Caribbean literary scene and the many paths that can be taken to get your work out there. To those who are trying, keep casting the line. If you feel like you’re drowning, that’s okay—take a minute to breathe. The business of the writing scene is nails-tough, but it’ll make you tough in the end too. Write as much as you could. Worry about publishing after it’s done and fine. It’s there forever, anyway.

If this is something you’ve been interested in, I hope the information was helpful. I know it was very difficult to find any when I was starting out four years ago If you know it would be for someone you know, please share it with them.

 

A long read but both comprehensive and incisive, yes. Thanks for your clarity and candor, Kevin.

You can find more information on the publishers, journals, and contests mentioned – and others – on our Opportunities page (which also has programmes, project funding, etc.). You might also find the Resources page instructive re some of the business side of publishing touched on in his post.

I endorse much of what KJ says here (and learned some things too, though I’ve been at this writing and publishing thing for a while). This site, if you’ll dig around, also has interviews and other guest blogs about the journey with/by other (usually) Caribbean writers. Links to some of my own reflections on the journey that have published here on the site are copied below:

Writing off the Map

How to get Published

Submitting Something Somewhere: Things to Consider

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and With Grace; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business

Literary Carnival

How’s this for a cool idea, a literal literary Carnival.

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Little Bell Caribbean (publisher of my book With Grace) worked with local stakeholders (like the Ministry of Education, the business community, and mas builders) in the US Virgin Islands carnivals to give characters from their catalogue of children’s book a visible presence on the road – why should Dora and Sponge Bob have all the fun, right?

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Publisher Mario Picayo explained that the kids themselves worked on all the pieces under the instructions of the puppeteer. One hundred and two papier mâché  stick puppets were made – 64 of which were used on St. Croix and 102 due for a showing at St. Thomas Carnival in April. Five large puppets were also made.

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IMG_4264For St. Thomas they plan to add a Green Sea Turtle, big enough to be carried by three students. It will be a preview of a new book for the Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge (GSRC) about Caribbean sea turtles.

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Pretty cool, huh?

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and With Grace; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery